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Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney comments on the Khatami visit to Harvard

Wednesday, September 6, 2006
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HH: Joining me to discuss that particular outrage is the Governor of Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney, who has today issued a press release about what the state of Massachusetts will and will not be doing when the Ayatollah enters his jurisdiction. Governor, welcome. Always good to talk to you.

MR: Thank you, Hugh. Good to be with you.

HH: Can you explain to the audience your reaction to the visa issued to the Ayatollah?

MR: Well, first of all, I think it’s an outrage that in this season of memory of those that lost their lives, that we would be inviting someone who is a terrorist to this country, and that in particular, this person would be invited to Harvard to come speak on the topic of tolerance. It’s outrageous, and for that reason, I have instructed our state agencies, and particularly our executive office of public safety not to provide any support whatsoever for his visit. And that means not to provide the escort and security personnel which would normally be associated with a person of interest of this nature. And it may well lead to them reassessing whether they want to come to Harvard. I certainly hope so.

HH: Now Governor, you’ve referred to him as a terrorist. I agree. But a lot of people will be confused, because the Department of State has gone out of its way to present him as the “liberal” predecessor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejead, the somewhat fanatical and obviously so current president in Iran.

MR: Well, there’s no question that he adopted language that some have called a terrorist of moderation. But a terrorist is a terrorist. This is a person who during his years in office, almost eight years in office, presided over their nuclear program. He’s a person who has decribed Hezbollah as a shining sun that elimates the world. He has endorsed Ahmadinejead’s call for the annihilation of Israel. He incarcerated thousands of Iranian students who protested their government. This is by no means the kind of voice of moderation that he pretends to be. He is, in effect, the quintessential wolf in sheep’s clothing.

HH: Now Governor Romney, normally when you have…a lot of people come to Harvard. You’re an alum there. I’m an alum. You graduate from the law school and the business school. I’m an undergrad, and I’ve very embarrasse by this. But normally, they do invite a lot of people. What does the state of Massachusetts, the commonwealth, typically extend to Harvard in terms of assistance when such a dignitary arrives?

MR: Well, not just for Harvard, but for any time a person of interest and substance comes to our state, if they require escort or security personnel, or special receptions at the airport and so forth, we provide those things out of a sense of dignity and honor. But Harvard, of course, has every right to invite who they want to come. I would disagree with their selection of invitee here, but they have a right to invite whoever they want. But they don’t have the right to expect that the state taxpayers, and our police force, are going to provide this individual with an escort and security services. That, in this case, is simply too outrageous for us to bear.

HH: It’s also particularly appalling that he’s speaking on September 10th, the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attacks on America. Are there any memorials under way in Boston or greater Massachusetts, Governor, of which you’re aware that are actually dignifying the memory of those who lost their lives in that terror attack?

MR: We have a service here on September 11th at the state capitol, and then meet with the families of those who lost loved ones. As you know, aircraft left Boston that were lost on that tragic day, and so we have families who are still grieving, and will always grieve at the loss of their loved ones. And in that setting, to have someone who is a terrorist, who led a nation which was described by our State Department during his tenure as the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the world, having him in our state at this time is acid in open wounds, and is not something welcome.

HH: Ayatollah Khatami has also endorsed Ahmadinejead’s call for the annihilation of Israel, you note, which is a call for genocide, which is prohibited under the U.N. charter, and under any understanding of international law and custom.

MR: Yeah, I think his rhetoric is not as outrageous as Ahmadinejead, but it’s fully outrageous, and it’s terrorist in nature. It is the violent jihadist extreme, which we cannot countenance. It’s important for America to reach out to voices of moderation and modernity in the world of Islam, and that is the majority of people in the world of Islam. But this person is not one of them, and welcoming him here, and inviting him to speak at Harvard University is simply wrong.

HH: Now Governor, there will be a number of programs and look backs over the next week, including the look back that ABC is airing, the Path To 9/11, which has come under significant pressure from various allies of Bill Clinton to edit, and I’ve been receiving news during the day that some small edits were, in fact, made. Have you had a chance to preview any of that, or to read about that controversy, and how it suggests we were asleep at the wheel throughout the 90’s?

MR: You know, I have not seen the material at this point, but clearly, our understanding of what was occurring in the world of Islam, and the battle for values between those that are radical extreme, and those that are more modern Islamists is something which we underestimated. And their intent on causing the unification of the world if Islam under a single caliphat, and in turn, their intent to cause the collapse of our country, is something we didn’t appreciate, and didn’t sufficiently prepare for.

HH: Governor, you wrote in your memoir of the Olympics, the time that you were running the Olympics, that this…like all Americans, you were shocked by 9/11, and saddened, and then of course, the enormity of dealing with the Olympics arriving under the threat of terror arrived…has the country sufficiently advanced, even as you have, on the learning curve about radical Islam in the five years since?

MR: No. I think one of the sad things is that we have not developed an understanding of the nature of what’s going on in the world of Islam, and how it threatens people there, and how it threatens people in their own country. And you know, I recently heard Tony Blair speak on the battle that’s going on, the world of Islam. It was really quite effective. I wish it were better heard and understood in our country. We are facing not just a group of al Qaeda lunatics in the hills of Pakistan, but a worldwide effort to cause the collapse of civilization as we know it, and Western societies. And that is a very real threat, and is going to require vigilence on our part, not just military, but Hugh, using Eisenhower’s term, we will have to wage full-out peace to help encourage people to, in the Muslim world, to turn to modernity.

HH: Now I heard a speech you gave at the Republican state convention in Los Angeles three weeks ago, and you used the term Islamic-facism, a term the president has used, but for which he has been significantly criticized. Do you stand by that term, Governor?

MR: Oh, absolutely. These are violent jihadists. Facism is probably as close a parallel as we can come up with, and I know a number of people have used that term. I think we’re having to make sure that people understand that this is something far broader than a group of anarchists in hills. It is a concerted, organized effort which is designed to cause the unification of all the nations of Islam, the reconquering of prior Islamic lands, and ultimately, the conquering of the world. And it sounds absurd to us, but that religious fervor can lead to awful acts of terror, and has already done so. And in no way can we contribute to the legitimizing of these individuals by inviting someone like Khatami to our country.

HH: Last question, Governor. This is traditionally the day on which election season begins in the off years, and in the presidential year. You’ve been out on the road a lot for Republican candidates across the United States. Does this issue matter, not just to Republicans, but to independent Democrats as well, preparedness against the Islamic threat, five years after 9/11?

MR: I think there’s a great deal of concern about Iraq as one front in the war, but I don’t think people recognize that it is just one front, that they look at Iraq and say gee, it hasn’t gone as well as we would have liked to have seen it go, so let’s just come home and not worry about. But in fact, it’s only one front. We have a long battle that’s going to go forward. I think Americans are concerned about the safety of our homeland, and rightfully so. We made progress, we have further to go. It’s an important issue, but it’s not something where Democrat Murtha’s perspective that we should just cut and run is selling with the American people. We recognize how severe the threat is, and we as a people are going to have to confront it.

HH: Has anyone from Harvard called you to protest that you’ve singled them out for the Khatami visit, Governor Romney?

MR: Not yet, but of course, Harvard is the only place in this country that I know of that’s invited Khatami to speak. So they will be calling, I’m sure. I did call the State Department today, and indicate that we will not be providing escort and security services, and they’re going to have to look elsewhere.

HH: Governor Mitt Romney of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, thanks for spending some time with us. Congratulations on your decision concerning Ayatollah Khatami. Very, very blunt, and I think overdue. Thank you, Governor.

MR: Thank you, Hugh.

End of interview.

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